Gaming laws in the United States are notoriously complex. While many countries, like the UK, have streamlined gaming law and practice, it’s only been the recent growth of online gaming that has caused a shift in legislative focus in the US.
Even within the realm of land-based casinos, US law tends toward strangeness, with many casinos legally required to be located on a body of water. This has led to boat casinos and plenty of pier casinos throughout the country. However, the recent shift toward digital casinos has left much to be examined in terms of US law.
First, US law is divided between federal law (that governs the entire nation), state law (that governs a state), and local law (that governs a locality). What is legal federally may not be legally locally or statewide. What is illegal federally may be totally legal statewide or locally.
There is no federal law that regulates online gaming, so placing a wager online is, technically, legal. However, it is illegal to game on a website that’s based in the United States.
And, to complicate matters further, these laws become more complex on a state and local level—not to mention, online gaming is divided between poker, sports betting, and casino games. In each state, one form of gaming may be legal, but not the other two.
In fact, only three states have fully legalized all three forms of online gaming (and Nevada isn’t one of them).
New Jersey is home to the largest online casino industry in the US. As of January 2019, the market in NJ alone was estimated at almost $500 million. That’s mostly because the state has specific legislation that makes online poker, sports betting, and other gaming legal and eligible for advertisement.
Since 2013, New Jersey has set a strong example for regulation of online gaming when the state legalized poker and other games. However, New Jersey didn’t begin regulating online sports betting until 2018.
Though one of the smallest states, Delaware was the first US state to fully legalize all three forms of online gaming in 2012. This came as a surprise to many, who saw New Jersey and Nevada as having more interest considering Atlantic City and Las Vegas are the US’s top gaming destinations.
Delaware’s early acceptance of online gaming saw a rather underwhelming response from the public. Though the first two years of tax revenue didn’t hit optimistic projections, the state has seen a steady rise in revenue from taxation of online gaming.
Like New Jersey and Delaware, Pennsylvania is a haven for all three recognized forms of online gaming—though it hasn’t been that way for long. While original legislation for online gaming was first passed in 2017, bills were only recently signed to make gaming legal. Since then, more than one legal PA casino has popped up, and many physical casinos have scrambled to develop online gaming programs for their casino members.
Since legalizing all three forms of online gaming, Pennsylvania has become the next focal point for this booming industry. In fact, one online poker service made $2 million in a single month, which skyrocketed the state’s operations within a single fiscal quarter.